6:00 a.m. – I run 6 miles and clean the house for a showing, then [$12] IHOP.
11:00 a.m. – I don’t like Nogales; too many poor people; so I avoid it. I catch a cab on the Mexican side. We climb and the houses get nicer. When we broach the top of the hill it is like visiting another country. The castle stands in a field of grass and trees. As we near the high gate, a speaker rises. Who are you? a disembodied voice asks. I tell it I am expected. The gate opens inward and we proceed to a dark painted door. I tell the driver to wait. When I approach the door, a large man in his seventies approaches.
Jaime Lopez: Ah, Mr. Green, it’s so good of you to visit my little home. He was equal to my six-four, but a stout two-seventy. What do you think of my door?
Me: I take a guess at the color; It’s quite impressive. Used to be years ago the church painted the doors red until the church was paid for. Let me guess, church doors, right?
L: Very good. I paid off the church’s mortgage and they gave me the doors. I built this mansion around them.
Me: Buying your way into heaven?
L: Don’t wear out your welcome before we’ve talked, Mr. Green. If there is an afterlife, I am damned many times over, but I keep a priest on the premises so I can be forgiven before I die. You might call it insurance, even for disbelievers.
He leads me through a large round atrium with a dozen armored knights at attention around a giant oak table in the center.
L: My round table. He rings a bell. Would you like a drink?
I ask for a beer
L: Why are you so concerned about my wayward nephew? This might be a sleeping dog better to let lie.
Me: I knew Willie a long time, and at one time I considered him a friend. Then we were estranged. I’d like to find out who the real Willie Lopez was, and why he died on my doorstep. So, you see, I’m stuck. I can’t stop now if I want to.
L: You might not think from all of this, that there is anything I wouldn’t know, but I don’t know who killed Willie, or why. When my men left him, his fingers were broken, some teeth were loose, and there was a certain amount of bruising around the cheeks. But they didn’t kill him, because then I’d have to kill them.
L: It’s not that I don’t have guesses which we might discuss later. But who is the real Willie Lopez? Let’s get to know Willie, see if we knew the same guy.
L: First, you might have been Willie’s friend, but he was not your friend. Willie had no friends. I was his fifteen year old uncle and I knew. Willie knew two types of people, those he could get things from, and those he couldn’t. And if there was something special or good that you’d done and told him, he’d always one-up you. He lied on reflex, like that ex-president of yours, and his lies succeeded in directing the conversation at Willie, at what he said he’d done. Willie never put up, and Willie never shut up. Willie was a twenty percenter; he’d make a twenty percent effort, like being a tennis player, and he would take the hundred percent credit for it. He always wondered why his effort wasn’t enough, like it was someone else’s fault, but he wasn’t tough enough or patient enough to get to the finish line. He’d wish his way across. But wishing and hoping was what he did when others were watching; any other time he’d steal it. He started out shop lifting at the corner drugstore, then he’d steal a bike, then he ran numbers, and finally he ran drugs. I’ll give him one thing, he’d never used them himself, but he had no problem giving them to his friends. He was the friendly neighborhood pusher, building his own network of ne’er-do-wells and no-nothings.
Me: How did he get into college?
L: Same way he got anything, he cheated. He used the grades of another Willie Lopez in another school to get admitted. He wanted to go to college, but he didn’t want to work at it. Well those college teachers were brighter than he was and they flunked him out after he was caught using another student’s term paper.
L: Willie was really good at only one thing, the ladies. He could talk virgins into bed, other men’s wives, widows on pensions. He had a way of focusing his attention so they thought he only had eyes for them. Why he’d even stop talking about himself for a few minutes in a row.
Me: Why’d he ever get married if he could get it for free?
L: I said he never had any friends. I didn’t say he wasn’t susceptible to the charms of women, but he wasn’t capable of loving them. Real love requires a commitment, one hundred percent, and poor Willie only had twenty. Everything in life was like that for him, work for twenty and bluff the eighty. But the first real wife, Rose, he married her in a church, she was blind to it all, so Willie got the best of all worlds. She didn’t catch on until it all went to shit.
Me: Until the bar business?
L: Yes, the bar business. It was one of those situations for which I am sad that blood is thicker than water. Ever the big shot, Willie found these hoodlums who needed a front. He acted like he was King Tut reincarnate. Just a bagman, that’s what he was. But the hoods turned out to be as dumb as Willie’s wife. It took the IRS to prove Willie was skimming. I had to put in a word to get a contract on Willie called off. It was precious capital at the time and I shouldn’t have wasted it.
Me: Manuel and Manuel?
L: My, my, Mr. Green. You have been busy. Yes, Manuel and Manuel. I cut them into a lucrative deal. I laundered their money, and they made nice with Willie.
Me: They turned up on Willie’s door a couple weeks ago.
L: Willie never caught on. They kept tabs on him, and when he’d get ready to score, they’d move in for their piece. Willie’s been keeping one up on them though by dodging the bullet of success every time. They lost their shirts on the Vancouver Exchange deal, right along with Willie. If he’d made anything from that, he would be dead. As it was, he cut and ran anyway. Sort of the same thing with the Resource Tap guys, you know who they are?
Me: Yeah. I even found out they work for you. I think they’re getting ready to lose you a billion dollars.
L: I hope you’re wrong there. That’s my thrice-laundered money they’re throwing around, and they’ve made some pretty good scores in the last couple of years with technology companies. It’s a constant battle, but I try to keep them legit. They didn’t know what they were getting into with Willie. They didn’t check his history enough. They actually believed the eighty percent lies on his resume. I only learned it was Willie they were dealing with a year ago.
Me: From Valerie Heintz.
He scratches his chin and looks at me in a new, possibly unfavorable, light.
L: You’re getting dangerous, Mr. Green. You’ve found a lot in a week. Maybe I don’t want you on my case.
Me: I’m no more dangerous than Valerie is, Mr. Diaz. We’re both scared.
L: Can I take that as a message. That’s good to hear. Give her my best wishes. She’s a very special person.
Me: Resource Tap didn’t have any connections to Manuel and Manuel?
L: No, and what a surprise. And when they showed up, one of my bodyguards for the Russian dolts recognized them and told me. I start looking closely at the Russians, looking closely at Willie. I don’t take lightly to being stolen from. If Willie had known I was the source, he’d have been more careful, but he stole from me.
Me: Somebody is still looking for something. What is it?
L: That’s news to me, maybe Willie’s hidden fortune. If it’s Manuel and Manuel, everyone involved with Willie better be headed for parts unknown.
Me: They are. There’s a young hooker involved who doesn’t know the danger she’s in yet. Willie used her to trap the Russians. I’ll hustle her out of town for a while.
L: So who cares about hookers? Don’t waste your time.
Me: She’s Willie’s daughter. He didn’t know. She adored him because he supported her and her mother for over fifteen years. He never met her, didn’t know what she looked like. Jasmine is a …
L: Jasmine who?
Me: Jasmine Gonzalez.
L: That stupid son-of-a-bitch. Jasmine’s mother is his half-sister. She’s my niece. The girl, Jasmine, she is in danger?
Me: If whoever doesn’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll go after Jasmine.
L: Then we need to help her. I can pay you to bring her here.
Me: I don’t want your money, but I’ll get the girl. You’ll have to get her out of town. She’s going to need help, Mr. Lopez.
L: It’s that damned blood. Too thick, too much pain.
4:30 p.m. – I make my way to WLE; a car is parked in the space marked Cook.
Me: I thought you were getting out of town.
Cook: I was. I am.
Me: Lot of good that’ll do you. If they want you dead, you’ll never see the bullet. But I’d be more worried about a bomb in your car.
I grab him as he heads for the men’s room. I put on the faucet full blast.
C: What’re you doing?
Me: Bob, it’s over. We’re in here because your building is bugged by the feds. I don’t want them knowing that I’m telling you this.
C: Then I have to get out of here.
Me: Bob, slow down and look at this logically. As far as you know you’ve done nothing illegal. Now you’ve found some irregularities, money it looks like has been stolen from government contracts. These have come to light since Willie died. Bob, you’re going to call the local FBI office right now and tell them you’re worried about this money, and about what your venture capital company, Resource Tap, is going to do about it. Tell them, Bob, that you’re afraid for your life. Have them come here and pick you up.
C: But I’m not guilty of anything.
Me: Bob, I understand. I’m trying to keep you alive. They’re not going to jail you, but they will put you in protective custody. They can help you protect your family.
5:00 p.m. – I call Jasmine’s number; there was no answer. I buy a take-out pizza [$10] and eat in.